Back in the summer, we witnessed Arsene Wenger break the habit of a lifetime when he launched a last-minute swoop for Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil. In sharp contrast to a club that held the £13million acquisition of Sylvain Wiltord in 2000 as their record transfer fee for the next eight-and-a-half years, Arsenal splashed out an unprecedented £42.5million on the German international.
The move broke almost every rule in Wenger’s transfer rule-book; big bucks on an already established player that undoubtedly morphed the Emirates’ rigid wage structure too. So twenty games into his Premier League career, it’s time to give the first analysis on whether Ozil has justified the Gunners gaffer’s transfer agenda-bending, and that eye-watering £42.5million fee.
I’m sure you will have noticed that this article has coincided with the North London side’s shock 5-1 defeat to Liverpool last weekend. The result’s aftermath has seen the 25 year-old bare the brunt of criticism from fans, pundits and BT Sport’s Michael Owen.
I do not intend to venture down the road of hyperbolas rant – one performance does not define a player, especially a player with such proven pedigree as Arsenal’s summer signing. Owen’s judgement that Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho is ‘more influential when it counts’, was unjustified, unnecessary, and unfounded in fact.
But let’s not commit to the other extreme of ignoring Ozil’s dismal Anfield display in its entirety – it did illustrate many criticisms one could have of the Germany midfielder.
Firstly, as the retired Kop Icon also pointed out, Ozil does have a tendency to go rather absent in the big games. His Champions League showing against Napoli, grabbing a goal and an assist in Naples, was certainly impressive, and an indicator of what the former Werder Bremen playmaker is truly capable of.
But on the Premier League scene, the midfielder has found just one goal and two assists thus far against top seven opposition. Although Arsenal have decisively crumbled against the likes of Chelsea, City, United and Liverpool this season, and therefore the entirety of the blame for Ozil’s performances against the bigger clubs can’t be attributed to him as an individual, this is essentially where you’d expect your £42.5million signing to stand up and be counted.
Following on, it also demonstrates how despite the enormous fee spent on Ozil in the summer, he hasn’t been by any stretch of the imagination Arsenal’s most defining player this season – the one that will come to symbolise everything good about the campaign in the minds of the fans. That title most likely belongs to Aaron Ramsey, who was dominating the Premier League in terms of goals, assists and tackles from midfield before his recent injury bout, or the club’s top scorer this year, Olivier Giroud.
But as previously stated, let’s not get over-influenced by what we’ve learned from one Premier League performance out of twenty, and let’s not ignore what we already knew about Mesut Ozil before he arrived in England.
The German may still have some way to go in his last 13 Premier League games to match the nine goals and eleven assists he found in La Liga last season, but there’s no doubt Ozil’s four goals and eight assists this term have been pivotal to the Gunners cause. Comparatively, the twelve goals the attacking midfielder has been in some way responsible for is only bettered in the Emirates squad by Aaron Ramsey (eight goals, six assists) and Olivier Giroud (ten goals, six assists).
And in the Premier League throughout, his eight assists is trumped by just Wayne Rooney with nine, whilst his average of 2.8 key passes per match – a statistic which essentially summaries the core reason Arsene Wenger was willing to part with £42million for Ozil’s services – is only overshadowed by David Silva (3.9) and Luis Suarez (2.9).
That being said, the Die Mannschaft star is still yet to produce performances of playmaking dominance that parallel the efforts we’ve seen from the likes of Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, David Silva or Eden Hazard over the last few years, or match the kind of prolific form we witnessed from a then 21 year-old at the 2010 World Cup for Germany.
That could come with time however; let’s not forget that this is Ozil’s first campaign in England, and Arsenal purchased the player with the view to have his services for the next five years. A stat-filled article on Kickoff.co.uk has pointed out that the midfielder’s return from his inaugural Premier League season is very much in line with those of David Silva’s, Oscar’s and Juan Mata’s. The only criticism of that however would be that all three arrived in the English top flight for between half and two-thirds of the Gunners’ £42.5million investment.
One should also consider the positive psychological lift the 25 year-old’s summer arrival has had on the Emirates camp this season, in what has been dubbed by many as the ‘Ozil effect’. In a nutshell, who Arsenal splashed the cash on in the summer window didn’t really matter, rather, it was simply a case of a club breaking their dormancy at the top end of the transfer market by bringing in an already established world-class talent. It proved to the Arsenal faithful and the roster that the North London outfit can still be considered a major club, capable of attracting major players.
The benefits have been obvious; Arsenal are back in the title race for the first time in nearly a decade, and although Ozil’s overall influence in their rise to the Premier League’s summit is still open to debate, there are few who argue the Gunners would be in the same position had they not spent so uncharacteristically boldly back in the summer.
Should the German international’s £42.5million capture prove to be a watershed moment in Arsenal’s future transfer endeavours, acting as an appetising beacon for other high-quality targets to be attracted to, it will undoubtedly be viewed as money well spent in the years to come, and a positive reason to deviate from the Gunners’ transfer norm.
But the ultimate litmus test of whether Arsenal have invested wisely will undoubtedly be whether Ozil can take them to the next level during his time at the Emirates, which in my opinion can only be determined by silverware. The Gunners’ eight-year trophy drought is beginning to venture upon the absurd, and if their summer signing wishes to truly prove he’s worth the £42.5million fee, he needs to be a major contributor in bringing the baron run to an end.
Failing to do so, and Arsene Wenger may as well have spent the money on another four Mikel Artetas.